Polystyrene, Styrofoam, plastic and other non-biodegradable items are used by many of us on a daily basis. Such is our present culture, despite knowing the bio-hazards it causes to our environment.
It is indeed a blessing that there are individuals out there combating the irreversible adverse effects of our irresponsible practices.
Trying to make a positive eco-friendly impact for a better future are two such guys – 28 year-old Dick Lim Yew Teck, the CEO of Foodabox Dot Com Sdn. Bhd and Chia June Mun, its COO.
Foodabox produces bio-degradable food and beverage packaging with the intention of doing their bit for Mother Nature. It is a leading paper food packaging manufacturer that designs, creates and delivers high quality customised paper packaging.
Started in 2014, Foodabox is the brainchild of Lim who contrived the idea as a 23-year-old final year entrepreneurship degree student at University Utara Malaysia (UUM). Together with his course mate Chia June Mun, he expanded the idea, ran projects and turned Foodabox into the successful business that it is today.
Lim describes how his idea of bio-degradable packaging came about. “I was doing social activities and projects with the Enactus Club while at UUM. The Enactus Club is a global non-profit platform for student, academic, entrepreneurial leaders and social innovators committed to creating a better, more sustainable world.
“Their focus is to use a commercial approach towards social and environmental issues and I picked up skills and knowledge from them. During my final year there was an issue in our campus when the caterers were reluctant to use Styrofoam boxes. This gave me the idea to replace it with “go-friendly” boxes. Due to its high cost however the food operators were reluctant to embrace the idea. To defray cost, we introduced advertisements on the packaging.”
In the beginning Foodabox made door-to-door trips to introduce their business model to companies to promote awareness and acceptance of their eco-friendly system.
By 2015, Foodabox had gained recognition and procured grants from the government. Their turning point was joining the MaGIC’s Accelerated Programme. Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC) is a government agency that promotes creativity and innovation among entrepreneurs in Malaysia through dynamic programmes and capacity-building initiatives.
Being a part of MaGIC gave Foodabox the leverage to enhance their business model, ensuring that their venture was sustainable from a business aspect. It also enabled them to help more people for a longer time by providing jobs, particularly for single mothers.
Since then their business has gone through several transformations due to their experimental business models. Between 2014 and 2015, Foodabox actively participated in and explored numerous campaigns and programmes related to social and business growth and seized whatever opportunities that came their way.
This has led to Foodabox winning awards such as the Green Social Enterprise Award 2015 and Hope Award Winner 2015 (Environmental Conservation and Sustainability).
Foodabox has weathered many storms, including an economic downturn as they struggled to strike a balance between their social responsibilities and business targets.
It became imperative to re-strategize their business model but within a short time, the duo was able to identify their niche. “There can be multiple winners in the packaging business but Foodabox’s niche is to engage with customers who are looking at premium eco-friendly products. We have gone through trial and error on several of our business models and are now at a comfortable stage,” explains Lim.
What they have found to be successful is that in harmonising the business side of things, the social aspect inevitably succeeds as well.
Foodabox operates from an industrial lot in Meru, Klang with their manufacturing plant at the ground floor and a cosy, welcoming office at the top floor. They currently employ three full-time staff and an intern and intend to increase this by two-fold soon.
With their current successful business model, Lim finds that they have a more diverse range of customers, not just from food and beverage, but also from the automobile, banking, hotel industries and death care service.
“This has opened a whole new perspective for us, which we hadn’t foreseen when we first opened Foodabox. We now see that more and more people are interested in protecting the environment and while they want to do business they do not want to cause any detrimental impact on the environment. I feel Malaysians are slowly picking up and this is a good sign.”
With Foodabox now thriving the business partners are moving their focus to sourcing for other eco-friendly raw materials.
Despite the obstacles they have faced along the way, Lim plays it down as part and parcel of life.
“Time has flown by so fast that I’m numb to the challenges but can’t deny I learnt many lessons. Some of the initial issues were in managing people, which has been extremely tough. Finding the right management style to help people realise their true potential has been a challenge. In fact, sourcing for funds was less challenging because when the business gains traction, funding falls into place.
“In the early days, we also had to deal with numerous rejections as the market was not ready for eco-friendly packaging and the high cost related to it. Also, at that point in time, I was balancing my studies, managing our social activities and running the business. Not easy. “
Lim explains that their current challenge is in dealing with the competitive packaging industry where there are conservative competitors who still use non-biodegradable packaging.
Foodabox, on the other hand, continues with their aim to be innovative in making a positive impact without compromising on quality.
Having dived into business at an early age, Lim admits that it has taken a toll on his personal life in that it has been tough to form long term friendships and relationships as he has had to sacrifice his time to focus his energies into building the business. As he says it himself, “To gain something, sometimes we have to lose something.”
Nevertheless, the challenges and sacrifices seem inconsequential in comparison to running a successful business with an admirable social impact.
What can other young people take away from this?
“There is no right or wrong way in the business model or plan that you choose. Probably the mistake would be to overthink the execution of the business model. The best way is to get down to doing it as there is no perfect business plan. Solutions can be worked out along the journey. It’s important to be passionate and energetic about what you do otherwise you will only generate unnecessary stress.”